US major TV networks embracing the Korean wave
Every year, increasing volumes of high quality TV productions come out of South Korea. Those include of course television series, also called “dramas”. Until recently, their international distribution had been on local specialized cable channels (KBS World, Arirang TV, Mnet, TKC, MBC America), sometimes on national broadcast channels (notably in South East Asia) and of course on an increasing number of VOD platforms (notably DramaFever and Viki).
However, in the past few years, US majors have also started taking the Korean wave into account more seriously, launching dedicated cable channels in some territories where they had developed their international network.
The most obvious and first one was Viacom, owner of the MTV channel brand, which launched MTV K in 2006 as a channel dedicated to Korean pop music for a global audience. Locally, the major also re-launched MTV Korea as SBS MTV in 2011. Programming is made 100% of K-pop music and entertainment.
FOX was second to enter the market by launching tvN Asia as joint venture with CJ E&M in 2009. In late 2012, the channel was rebranded as Channel M, to refer to the addition of Kpop-related contents from Mnet, the #1 network worldwide for Korean pop entertainment. Channel M is distributed by Fox International Channels and shows a wide choice of programmes including dramas, lifestyle shows, concerts and movies. The channel is notorious for broadcasting the Mnet Asian Music Awards and K-Pop Star Hunt – an Asia-wide singing competition show. It is currently available in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong-Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam (1).
Third was Sony Pictures Television, which, as a Japan-US company, already had a strong foothold in South East Asia since 1997, through its AXN, Animax and Sony Entertainment Television (SET) flagship channels. However, that’s only in 2010 that the major launched a cable channel dedicated to Korean entertainment shows, of course including dramas, called ONE. Hui Keng Ang, senior VP and general manager for Sony Pictures Television Networks in Asia, stated that “almost all his content comes from the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS)”, suggesting therefore an output deal. (2) ONE is currently available in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, and shows Korean dramas, entertainment series, variety and music programs.
And a few days ago, on 8 October 2014, Turner Broadcasting (TimeWarner) was the fourth major to launch a Korean channel, following a volume deal with the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), considered by many and for a long time, the leading Korean broadcast network for Korean dramas but also a number of entertainment shows. MBC produces 1,400 hours of programming every year, and the channel will likely be airing hit drama series Pride & Prejudice, Diary of a Night Watchman, You Are My Destiny, Triangle, long-running variety show, Infinite Challenge, and reality show Dad, Where Are We Going?. (3) The channel is currently only available in Singapore (on StarHub), but, according to Ricky Ow (the new president of Turner International Asian Pacific since January), will launch in Malaysia and Indonesia before March 2015. It skews towards a younger, trendier female audience than its competitors. (4)
The positioning and content strategy of those channels also give an interesting perspective of the different Korean broadcasters with which they are associated. While KBS and CJ E&M ambition to distribute their flagship international channels (KBS World and Mnet) worldwide, MBC and SBS – despite being present in the U.S. through joint ventures – prefer to maintain the exclusivity for potential local buyers.
We must also note that, except MTV K, all the channels introduced in this article are focused on the South East Asian region. However, since US majors have operations in the UK, shall that make business sense, we may some day be able to watch one or several of them through our own local cable operators. In the meantime, Korean dramas are distributed on VOD only.